Telemedicine Reduces Physician Burnout and Increases Access to Specialty Care

Navigating Healthcare Challenges

In today’s rapidly evolving healthcare environment, the demand for specialty care has never been greater. However, this increasing demand is met with significant challenges, including physician shortages and burnout. These challenges are nothing new in the healthcare industry, but they have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, telemedicine offers a promising solution to these pressing challenges, providing patients with increased access to specialty care, decreasing physician burnout, and ultimately fostering more efficient healthcare systems.

Rising Physician Burnout and Shortages

The nature of the healthcare environment – “with its packed work days, demanding pace, time pressures, and emotional intensity” – places physicians at a high risk for burnout. The prevalence of burnout among physicians was 38% in 2020, before spiking to a staggering 62% in 2021 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has placed immense pressure and stress on healthcare professionals, leading to emotional exhaustion and higher physician turnover rates. In fact, “one in five physicians intends to leave their current practice within two years.”

The Impact of Patient Burnout on Access to Care

Physician burnout doesn’t just affect the providers themselves; the resulting shortages also negatively impact the patients who rely on their expertise and care. This dynamic poses a critical threat to community health and well-being, particularly for marginalized and underserved populations. Rural communities, in particular, face significant barriers when it comes to accessing specialty care, and physician shortages hamper efforts to improve access. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a disproportionate burden on these patients, compelling the implementation of measures aimed at improving access and quality-of-care in the rural healthcare system.

If our goal is equitable access to care for all, then we need to urgently address physician burnout. By urgently addressing physician burnout, we will not only protect the mental and emotional wellbeing of healthcare providers, but also uphold the standards of care that patients deserve and establish a more sustainable healthcare system.

Telemedicine’s Potential to Reshape Healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of telemedicine, as many healthcare organizations had to implement programs out of necessity. Now, beyond its immediate response to the crisis, telemedicine offers promising solutions to two pressing challenges: physician burnout and healthcare disparities. Incorporating virtual care provides physicians with more autonomy, including more flexible hours and a healthier work-life balance, which experts believe is key “to help doctors work at the top of their game.”

"Telemedicine has afforded me flexibility in my schedule, protecting time to dedicate to healthy lifestyle changes. As a result, I am a happier and healthier me, which makes me a better doctor. ... I do not experience the amount of time crunch or external pressures when practicing telemedicine, which has been very refreshing after questioning the sustainability of practicing medicine in a traditional setting."
Dr. Chad Walker
Chad P. Walker, DO, FACR
VP Tele-Rheumatology

Patients who visit a physician experiencing burnout are twice as likely to encounter safety incidents and express dissatisfaction with the quality of care. On the other hand, when physicians are performing at their best, patients are more likely to receive the quality and professional care they deserve. Telemedicine also enables physicians to reach a wider range of patients, including those in remote or underserved areas. This enables patients in rural communities to access a wider range of specialty services that they may not otherwise have access to, due to lack of providers or transportation barriers.

Telemedicine also benefits healthcare organizations. “Medical practices that incorporate telehealth into their business model may save on overhead by reducing staff, office hours, and office space,” explained Vrinda Kadiyali, Nicholas H. Noyes Professor of Management at the Johnson Graduate School of Management. “Telehealth may also increase patient satisfaction, resulting in less patient turnover and greater compliance with their medical treatments.” By embracing telemedicine, healthcare organizations can lower costs, enhance patient satisfaction, and contribute to better health outcomes for the communities they serve.

The Future of Healthcare

As we navigate the modern healthcare landscape, characterized by growing demand for specialty care and the persistent challenges of physician burnout and shortages, telemedicine emerges as a promising solution. In addition to improving patient care and physician satisfaction, telemedicine also enhances the efficiency and financial stability of healthcare organizations, positioning itself as a valuable resource in shaping the future of healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the benefits and capabilities and telemedicine, and it’s now poised to continue addressing our most pressing healthcare challenges.

Beam Healthcare provides turnkey telemedicine solutions to healthcare systems, ranging in size from critical access hospitals to large healthcare systems like the Mayo Clinic. Founded and run by physicians, our goal is to improve healthcare quality, access, and equity across populations. To learn how Beam can support your organization, explore our services or get in touch with a member of our team.